Clemson will play a Thursday night home football game for the just the third time ('98 GT, '02 NCSU) as they host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets tonight at 7:30. It's certainly not something the administration or the fans prefer and there are unique reasons why I believe the ACC should not ask Clemson to bite the Thursday bullet again. As I attempt to make my way to campus in time for an abbreviated tailgate, let me quickly share what I find to be the three most compelling of those arguments.
Clemson isn't 'obligated' to do this for the ACC
In a email to season ticket holders, AD Dan Radakovich said the following:
"As President Barker noted in an email to the staff in May, Clemson has avoided a Thursday night game in the past because of the challenges it presents to academic and university operations. However we do have an obligation to support the ACC’s television contract, from which we benefit."
I hope that Commissioner Swofford and the ACC Office understands that Clemson and Florida State go above and beyond their "obligations" to the conference. That is because football is responsible for 80% of the conference's current TV contract and Clemson and Florida State are the conference's premier football programs. You can even throw Miami and Virginia Tech in that mix, but the bottom line is the premier football programs contribute the most to the ACC's television contract. Conference members with weak football teams simply aren't driving the TV dollars like they are doing. So I ask, do they have an extra "obligation" to host host these games?
Distance from population centers
Clemson is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, about a shade under two hours from Atlanta and a shade over two hours from Charlotte. It's a beautiful rural location, along I-85. It's less than an hour from Greenville, where a large number of fans visit from, but there's also a very large contingent that drive long distances for those special Saturdays when Clemson plays in Death Valley. I drive from Winston-Salem, over three hours away. Many drive from Charlotte, Atlanta, and Charleston. Dabo Swinney explained this best when he described Tiger Walk:
"It's a reminder, every week, that 'man people care.' It's just a game, but it matters. It's important how we play and how we represent this university. People drive five hours to watch you play and then drive five hours back. They spend their money on this. A lot of these guys aren't wealthy. We have a blue-collar fan base."
Because of the location of the University, week night games are a special problem and we're seeing this affect ticket sales for this particular game (the university was selling tickets online for only $24). Conversely, there are quite a few ACC programs that are in and/or nearby major population centers. Just about any other ACC school would make more sense, but consider some of the following:
- Pittsburgh: Obviously right in the heart of a major city
- Louisville: Louisville has a population over 250,000 and is near Lexington, KY and a little over an hour from Cincinnati, OH
- Miami: You have all of Miami, Miami Beach, and Ft. Lauderdale right there, though they don't show up anyway.
- NC State: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill
- North Carolina: Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham
- Duke: Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill
- Georgia Tech: Just on the North side of downtown Atlanta
- Boston College: Only a stone's throw from Boston
- Wake Forest: Much like Louisville, Winston-Salem is a decent size and is also near Charlotte and Greensboro
Clemson Memorial Stadium is the centerpiece of campus. With tailgating all around, I remember waking up to the sound of cadence count just below my window in the freshman dormitory. It sure beats a cell phone alarm! Other schools, bless their hearts, aren't in this situation. Wake Forest, for example, has their stadium over by the RJ Reynolds complex just a bit off campus. They have a large parking lot that they use for football during the Fall and basketball during the Winter. Tailgating doesn't occur on campus, therefore they don't have the logistical issues with week night games that Clemson does. Pittsburgh and Miami also have off-campus stadiums allowing games to occur with creating logistical issues on campus. Sun Life Stadium in Miami is a whopping 20 miles away from campus.
See the below snippet from a University email explaining how visitors for this Thursday night game should proceed onto campus:
- Please respect the academic efforts of Clemson students and faculty, who will be working until administrative offices close at Noon, and do not arrive on campus until parking lots open at 2 PM.
- Campus administrative offices will close at Noon
- Reserved lots will be cleared and towing of those lots will begin at 1 PM
- Parking lots open at 2 PM
- Tailgating may begin at 2 PM
Because of logistical issues, Clemson is forced to cancel Thursday afternoon classes. Students would not be able to drive to campus due to the game day traffic and would certainly not have a place to park. In fact, as you can see from the email above Clemson will tow cars that remain in reserved lots past 1 PM. What else can they do? Season ticket holders own those parking spots on game days. Additionally, tailgating is delayed and the cleanup crew must work overnight to keep campus in top condition for Friday morning class.
Jumping back to the Wake Forest example, they didn't even have to cancel class last season when we visited on a Thursday (though surely some good professors gave students a break). The logistics of hosting a Thursday night football game simply work better for some schools than others.
While I understand we benefit from the ACC's television contact, we undoubtedly contribute enough to this TV deal without participating in these Thursday night home games to do our fair share. The location of our campus in a rural area makes it difficult for fans and alumni--who savor those seven precious Saturdays--to attend Thursday night games. The location of the the stadium towards the center of campus creates a logistical nightmare that necessitates cancelling class, towing cars, delaying tailgating, and cleaning campus through the wee hours of the night.
I understand that these awkward week night games increase our ESPN dollars and I'm all for that. So while I don't like playing Thursday night road games either, I have no complaints. Kudos to the administration for working to avoid these games the best they could. This is only the second Thursday night game we've had to host in an 11 year span and third ever. Here's to another decade of football Saturdays.
For some supplementary points including how the Thursday Night time slot is not all it is cracked up to be and how the SEC cherry picks their second tier programs to play on Thursday nights, you can check out TheTigerSwag.